Walter took off his coat, and Thomas draped it on one of the carved Chippendale hall chairs. Then, while the women retired to the kitchen – Luisa to put the flowers in water, and her mother to brew a pot of tea – the two men withdrew into the drawing room. It was a large, well-furnished room, a little too elegant for comfort, so without sitting, Walter turned to face the man he wished to have as a father-in-law. As he looked at Thomas he saw much of himself, the same strong figure, the same fair complexion, but in Thomas he saw graying light brown hair and creases of old age around the eyes. Thomas was wearing old tweed trousers and a navy blue sweater almost the same color as Walter’s suit. Walter knew from Thomas’s look that he didn’t need to explain his mission, but, out of courtesy, according to age-old protocol, he spoke.
“Mr. Chapman, I’ve come to ask for Luisa’s hand in marriage.” He fumbled with the contents of his pocket. Thomas winced at the sound, remembering how much Luisa hated this habit. He wanted to advise Walter to desist, but good manners prohibited such a personal comment, even to his daughter’s suitor.
Instead he gave a sad smile and said, “Mr. Radcliffe, Walter, my dear fellow, you have Mrs. Chapman’s and my full blessing. We couldn’t ask for a better son-in-law.” He looked into Walter’s anxious face and nodded as he reached out his hand to shake Walter’s. Walter let go of the change and they shook as Thomas went on.
“The trouble is that she is headstrong. I still don’t think that she is ready. You have been so patient. How Mrs. Chapman and I wish that she would come around. We’ve tried to influence her, but since she became a nurse she hasn’t listened to our counsel.”
Walter‘s disappointment showed in the slump of his pose as he dropped his hand and said, “It has to be her decision, doesn’t it? That’s the only way for a happy union.” He looked wistfully unconvinced as he turned toward the window to conceal his emotion and went on with a sigh, “So wish me luck.”
Thomas moved beside him and the two men stood side by side, looking out of the window over the low white garden wall to the expansive village green beyond. They indulged themselves in musing. Thomas thought about his difficult daughter, wondering if there was something, anything, which he or Isabelle could do or say to sway her decision. Walter thought about Thomas’s reminder that Luisa had a headstrong character and allowed himself to fantasize about what it would be like to be married to this vibrant woman. He admired her spunk and the very fact that she resisted his advances. Somehow her rejections and passionate independence made her more desirable. He thought of her on the stage acting Lady Macbeth, and fondly recalled her rendition of Lady Macbeth’s words as though they were directed to him personally.
…….Hie thee hither,
That I may pour my spirits in thine ear
And chastise with the valor of my tongue,
All that impedes thee from ……..
He thought fondly about how her sprits would be an inspiration to his architecture, how she would be able to goad him to heights of creativity which he might not otherwise attain. He categorized her depiction of the evil aspects of Lady Macbeth as magnificent acting. His contact with her to date had convinced him that, unlike Lady Macbeth, she had the right mix of courage and independence without a lust for power. The right ingredients needed to be able to maintain high principles and morals.
Their mutual silence was becoming onerous, but just as Thomas was about to speak again he heard the women coming across the hall. Isabelle entered first, her graceful figure clad in a pale mauve dress with high collar and long sleeves. She glanced quickly at her husband, immediately understanding his almost imperceptible nod and gave him one in acknowledgment. Then she turned and gave Walter one of her radiant smiles as she motioned to everyone to sit so that she could serve tea. She poured the precious beverage from a silver teapot into bone china cups decorated with pink roses and yellow daisies. The cups clinked as they were set onto their matching saucers. The four exchanged pleasantries about the weather and the latest war news as they savored the warmth and flavor of their tea. Walter was impatient and unable to focus and soon suggested that Luisa show him the rose garden.
© Copyright, Jane Stansfeld, February 2014
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